How do we make learning fun?

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By Chanel Traboldt, Third Grade Teacher at Harford Heights Elementary and Young Audiences Public Programs Summer Intern

Two middle school girls sit in the back of the classroom. One of them is sneaking a look at her cell phone under her desk; the other is braiding her hair. They are in a morning class during the first week of the Young Audiences and Baltimore City Public Schools 22nd Century Pioneers Arts-Based Summer Camp, and neither girl is looking at the front of the room or listening as the teacher, Ms. Moss, begins a math lesson on integers.

For a school teacher, like me, this can be the scene of many early mornings. The question you ask yourself each time is: “How do I better engage my students in their learning?” This often can seem like an impossible task. We know that if you make learning fun, students will want to learn. As an educator, there is an urgency to fight the achievement gap and prepare your students with the skills needed to be college and career ready. But now the tricky part: how do we make learning fun?

Young Audiences again partnered with Baltimore City Public Schools to solve this dilemma in July. In addition to providing arts enrichment activities at seven summer learning sites in Baltimore City, Young Audiences and City Schools created the first-ever completely arts-integrated summer learning site at Edmondson Westside High School. All eight sites were a part of the 22nd Century Pioneers Summer Camp, which is a free program for Baltimore City Public School middle school students.

Back in the classroom at the Young Audiences arts-integrated camp site something surprising happens. Ms. Moss continues her math lesson by projecting photographs students took the previous day while working with Young Audiences photographer Christina Delgado. The two girls stop what they were doing and look up. Ms. Moss asks the group what elements of photography are being used in each image and how these elements relate to what they are learning about integers. The girls raise their hands to join the conversation.

See more photos from the Young Audiences arts-integrated summer learning site!

During my time at Young Audiences’ site, I saw that teachers and artists had found a solution to many teachers’ student engagement woes. Integrating the arts into daily lesson plans allowed students to create, explore, express, have fun, and most importantly, to learn.

At the Young Audiences camp, nearly 150 students explored math and science concepts through the arts in classes and arts enrichment activities led by Baltimore City teachers and Young Audiences artists during the five-week program. Students chose the art form they would focus on during afternoon enrichment sessions, with choices including dance, photography, illustration and mural painting, theatre, Hip Hop, steel drums, and VEX robotics.

In another class, I saw a group of chatty sixth-graders sitting in the corner go completely silent to listen to steel drum musician Kevin Martin play musical phrases the class had created using what they had learned about ratios.

An unenthused student turned frustration into joy while drawing blueprints for a cage to carry a wild boar across a lake of alligators in visual artist Danyett Tucker’s eighth-grade math class.

Students, who were at first more focused on their weekend, turned that energy into an intricate dance routine about pollution in dancer Valerie Branch’s class.

As a teacher witnessing these moments of transformation, I am amazed at how easy it is to engage students in learning. The key is to understand that learning and the arts are not separate entities. By combining the two elements and creating arts-integrated educational lessons, students are truly able to learn while having fun.

Read more about the Young Audiences 22nd Century Pioneers Arts-Based Summer Camp site and see photos here.

Taking summer learning beyond the classroom

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During the past few weeks, nearly 150 middle school students have dived into math and science concepts through the arts at the Young Audiences and Baltimore City Public Schools 22nd Century Pioneers Arts-Based Summer Camp. Students have learned how ratios are used in photography and how the physics of sound affect each note played on a steel drum. Through these art forms, and many more, students have been engaged in learning this summer so that they are prepared to hit the ground running this school year.

While most of the learning goes on inside the school, students have also had the opportunity to take their knowledge beyond the classroom walls on field trips. These excursions allow students to continue their hands-on learning in a new atmosphere, applying the skills and knowledge they’ve acquired throughout the summer.

The first trip was a visit to the Baltimore Museum of Industry, where students learned the ins and outs of technology and put their own engineering skills to the test. In one activity, students worked together in small groups to create a track that would carry a wooden ball and drop it into a can. This required them to go through the five steps of solving an engineering problem: plan, get materials, build, test, fix, and re-rest. Students were forced to adjust and readjust their designs before finally reaching their goal, usually resulting in loud cheers.

Students received another challenge: creating an artistic interpretation of the word industry. Groups joined together, combining their knowledge and creativity to come up with dances, skits, and songs that showed what they had learned that day.

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See more photos from summer learning!

The following week, students traveled to Baltimore’s Artscape, America’s largest free arts festival organized by the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts. Surrounded by artists of all disciplines, the students put on a show of their own at the Station North Stage, showcasing what they’ve been working on during their arts enrichment classes. The show opened with a lively Hip Hop dance performance from Jamaal Collier and Alicia Shaw’s Hip Hop class. After the performance, one student explained the four pillars of Hip Hop, the most important one being knowledge. Next, Valerie Branch and Heather Tuttle’s dance class got the crowd cheering with a dance set to Ariana Grande and Iggy Azelea’s “Problem.” Kevin Martin and Kevin Older’s students also got to show off their steel drum skills.

Even those who didn’t perform on stage took part in their own form of art-making. Throughout the day, Christina Delgado’s photography students captured Artscape from behind the lens, while Danyett Tucker’s illustration students filled up their sketchbooks with drawings of everything from festival attendees to graffiti on buildings.

Bridget Cavaiola’s improv class performed an exercise called “Improv Everywhere.” All over the festival, they held compliment battles, gave flowers to strangers, and posed as wax statues, making them the target of many curious stares and even a few pictures. See this group in action in the video below!

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Read more about the arts-integrated learning happening at the Young Audiences 22nd Century Pioneers Arts-Based Summer Camp site and see photos here.

The Intersection of Art and Science

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Young Audiences’ artist roster includes professional teaching artists who are both highly skilled in their art form and passionate about engaging students in learning through their art. Our artists are experts at highlighting the natural connections between their art and the curriculum, including everything from world history to math to literature. Every Young Audiences program both shares skills specific to dance, music, theatre, or visual arts and offers students the opportunity to learn about other curricular subjects in a new way.

For Young Audiences artist Kevin Martin, art links directly to science. Kevin is an artist who specializes in building and playing the steel drum, an instrument that requires a vast amount of scientific knowledge in its production. Kevin was recently interviewed in Trumpf Express, a magazine dedicated to sheet metal processing, for his scientific expertise. In the article, Kevin points to studying the carbon content and thickness of the metal as well as balancing strength and flexibility as some of the essential aspects of creating a drum.

Kevin brings steel drum music into schools through assembly performances and hands-on workshops with students and educators. During residency programs like the Steel Drum Experience and professional development programs for educators, such as Steel Drums in the Classroom and The Physics of Steel Drums, Kevin brings dozens of steel drums into the classroom so students and teachers can try their hand at playing the instrument and experience how physics concepts play a role in the sound of the drum. As Trumpf Express notes, “last year, he visited 100 schools with up to 100 students at a time, and thanks [Young Audiences], Kevin is able to provide many with drums of their own.”

Though Kevin is accomplished in both the science side of production and the artistic side of playing, when asked what he loves to do most, Kevin responded, “I love all of it.”

Read the full article by clicking on the image below.

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Watch Kevin speak about his passion for steel drums at TEDxChesterRiver here.

Read more blog posts about Kevin Martin here.

Tube Beat or Not To Be? Discovering Sound through Rhythm and Movement

By Max Bent, Musician and beatboxer

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Young Audiences artists and teacher partners have written case studies documenting their work in schools and their exploration of one essential question. Each study provides a snapshot of how the artist or teacher works with students to integrate the arts into the curriculum and provide opportunities for students to imagine, create, and realize their full potential through the arts.

Project or Program Summary

I first experienced beat tubes (capped PVC tubes that produce distinct pitch) while playing in the ensemble of fellow Young Audiences artist Kevin Martin. Inspired by their simplicity and immediate impact on students, I worked with a team of fifth- and sixth-grade teachers to design an arts-integrated beat tube residency. Our team began with the essential question “What is sound?” Through interacting with and playing the beat tubes, students experienced the propagation of sound while applying principles of music and dance during a culminating group performance.

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Beat tubes are capped PVC tubes that produce distinct pitch.

Purpose and Rational

Beat tubes offer a wealth of possibilities for further exploration of arts-integrated teaching. As an instrument, beat tubes are linked in heritage to Tamboo Bamboo in Trinidad as well as numerous folk music traditions surrounding the pounding of grain into flour. This case study is submitted in the hopes of inspiring other educators to experiment with beat tubes.

Analysis and Outcomes

What are your overall conclusions regarding the documentation gathered for this case study?
Students learned that the phenomenon of sound can be understood as patterns of vibration through a medium–usually air. These patterns of vibration are called “sound waves.” “Pitch” and “volume” are aspects of sound waves that can be manipulated by musicians to express ideas and feelings.

What conclusions have you drawn from the responses to the assessment tools you have developed?
Students gained new insights into the phenomenon of sound. Students also improved their ability to work together cooperatively and to communicate in a collaborative setting.

Back to the initial inquiry question, can it be answered?
Yes. After the residency, students were able to identify and discuss specific scientific terms related to sound (i.e. frequency, amplitude, wavelength) and use this knowledge to enrich their compositions.

Playing the beat tubes connected body and mind in the practice of music. Students learned to play rhythmic patterns on steady beats but the challenge was both physical (kinesthetic) and mental.

Summary and Conclusions

What was learned?

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During the residency Max worked with students to define and apply the scientific principles of sound by creating musical rhythms and harmonies with beat tubes.

By playing the beat tubes, students were able to objectify the often confusing and mysterious nature of sound. Students were able to approach the inquiry question scientifically.

Students learned:

  • Sound is a phenomenon that our brains perceive and process in a specific, predictable way.
  • The physical characteristics of sound are frequency and amplitude.
  • The frequency of a sound wave is defined in musical terms as pitch.
  • Different pitches form melodies and harmonies, both of which can be defined mathematically through interval relationships.

What can be done differently in the future?
I introduced the residency with beatboxing (vocal percussion) activities during the course of three days. In the future, one day of beatboxing would suffice. This would allow more time for working with the beat tubes and further discussion and analysis of the scientific principles of sound.

I would have liked to give students more time to compose independently. Also, students can potentially be involved in the construction of the beat tubes in the future.

How will this inform the work moving forward?
This project inspired me to expand the possibilities of working with beat tubes. Specifically I learned that vocalizations and movement are essential to successful instruction. Therefore I will explore the elements of dance as well as other related musical traditions (i.e. drum lines, West African drumming) to improve the project. Overall, I was amazed at the possibilities of working with beat tubes.

Curriculum Connections

Music
Science
Dance
21st Century Skills

Learn more about Max’s  assembly, residency, and professional development programs. 

Read other case studies written by Young Audiences teaching artists and teacher partners

I am an artist

By Colette Krebs, sophomore at Annapolis High School’s Performing and Visual Arts Magnet Program

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I want you to think of your life right now. Think about who you work with. There may be that one person who loves movies or sports or drawing. Everyone you work with, you put a label on. Not necessarily bad, just who they are in your mind. That girl over there, she’s a reader. You, you are a church goer. We all label people and we’re all labeled.

My name is Colette Krebs. I am 15, a sophomore in the Performing and Visual Arts Magnet Program (PVA) at Annapolis High School in Anne Arundel County.

If you asked me what my life would be like without art, my answer would be simple. Empty. It would have to be because I can’t remember life without it.

From my first memories of school –including preschool at Creative Gardens—the arts have always been part of what I do. I’m speaking today because I want you to know the impact art can have.

Before art was seriously introduced in my life in the Wiley H. Bates Middle School PVA program (I was in the first year of students to attend), I was a bit of a loner. That was my label. I was the girl who would spend lunch reading Harry Potter rather than hanging out with friends.

In PVA, work was collaborative, so you became vulnerable as you opened up. Through this process, especially in theatre, I was able to communicate better, I made friends, and I learned ways that art can be used to succeed outside of art classes.

All of my classes, even science and even math, were arts integrated. One of my favorite memories was in my eighth grade geometry class. We were drawing a city landscape, keeping the buildings proportionate with geometric measurements. Young Audiences made that moment possible by training our teachers and by providing professional artists who came into the school to teach us.

In theatre, when we are given monologues, we are only given a part of a character and we have to fill in all the details. So when it came to science and math, where my classmates struggled, I had no issue memorizing the vocabulary and formulas, analyzing situations, and finding creative solutions.

My arts training also taught me how to work under pressure, which really helped me with homework. I am in school from 7:17 a.m. until 4:45 p.m. because of the extended arts day. And, until recently, I added even more time, as I played a dynamic role in Electra so I couldn’t start homework until 8:00 at night.

Unlike many of my art friends, I wasn’t aggressive in getting the lead, I wasn’t emotional about relationships or projects or Angelina Jolie. I preferred to stay inside my head, making observations, but PVA didn’t allow me to do that. It pulled me straight out of my shell. At first, I felt scared; I had been yanked out of everything I’ve known in front of complete strangers, but almost immediately, I loved it. These weren’t regular kids, these were artists. Loud, obnoxious, funny, opinionated, rambunctious, and everything else you could want in a friend. I didn’t want to go back to the way it was and they certainly weren’t about to let me.

It has always been my dream to grow up and incorporate the arts in my life, but I thought it was black and white. I could dance, sing, act, or be an artist.

But art isn’t about exactness. In art there are a lot of gray areas that you get to fill in with all the colors of the rainbow, pirouettes, and C major chords.

When you experience art, something changes inside you and all of a sudden, you’re able to see the world in a new way.

I found my own way through life with the help of art, the support of my parents, Bates and Annapolis, and Young Audiences. Without this, I wouldn’t be here today. I know that I am lucky to have these experiences and I hope that through Young Audience’s work, many more kids will be just like me: building their dreams around a future that is hopeful. I don’t know what my future holds, but I know that with art it will be beautiful and full of hope.

When I was young, I was labeled a loner. Now that I’m older, I’m proud to say that I’m not a loner. I am an artist.

Colette shared how the arts have affected her life inside and outside of school at Young Audiences’ Impact Breakfast in November.

Using arts integration to prevent summer learning loss

By Lucy Coyle

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Lucy Coyle recently completed a summer internship at Young Audiences and wraps up our series on Young Audiences’ summer learning programs–and their importance for students who would otherwise have limited opportunities to stay active and engaged during the summer months.

If you’ve seen Jack Black’s teacher impersonator role in the comedy School of Rock then you’ve seen a glimpse of how the arts can engage students in the classroom. In one memorable scene during the movie, Black sings to his class about fractions to come across as a productive and innovative teacher. While in Black’s case the fractions song is all part of a larger scheme to teach students how to rock and not about math, putting mathematic equations to melodies is certainly one way to engage kids in the subject. If you, like me, learned the song “Fifty Nifty United States” at any point in your adolescence–and can still recite all of the states in alphabetical order–you know that arts engagement works.

I had the pleasure of visiting a Baltimore City Public Schools Summer Learning Academy classroom this past July and experienced much more than arts engagement–I saw arts being integrated into the curriculum. Young Audiences again partnered with Baltimore City to provide rising fifth- through eighth-grade students with arts-integrated learning opportunities during the summer months. Through generous funding provided by the Hoffberger Family Philanthropies, Young Audiences was able to expand its role at 10 Summer Learning Academy sites to provide arts enrichment sessions and arts-integrated math and STEM lessons at each site. During my visit to William Pinderhughes Elementary I witnessed how impactful arts integration and summer learning can be when combined.

Young Audiences artist Arianna Ross is a champion for arts integration. She’ll tell you openly that “it’s kind of my thing.” I watched Arianna lead an arts-integrated lesson in a science classroom where students were learning about the concepts of compression, tension, and gravity, which gave me more insight into arts integration and its power to transform classroom learning.

Arianna’s lesson demonstrated that the bounds of arts integration are almost limitless. For Arianna, it’s not just about putting the names of the states or fractions to music, but rather it’s about expressing various concepts in as many ways as possible.

Teaching music notation is an effective way to teach fractions in a classroom.
Teaching music notation is an effective way to illustrate fractions for students.

Although Arianna is listed in the Young Audiences’ Resource Guide as a storyteller, she is the first to dismiss traditional storytelling methods when a dance activity or a poetry-writing session better serves the subject at hand. For Arianna, arts integration is about adapting every day to fit the curriculum. It’s about bringing arts terms into the classroom and using them on a regular basis.

I saw Arianna use various dance and theatre terms during her lesson on physics. Students began by standing in mountain position–the actor’s resting position. They paired off and created physical representations of the concepts being discussed in the class: gravity, compression, and tension. While they explored different poses that communicated these concepts, the students physically connected to the importance of strong foundation and balance. Their choreographed dances helped them make abstract physics concepts concrete, and they were more eager to participate and share what they had learned by performing for one another.

Two Summer Learning students come up with poses to demonstrate compression.
Two students come up with poses to demonstrate compression.

Baltimore City Public Schools Summer Learning Academies were designed to give students five weeks of additional math support during the summer. Many of these students come from low-income backgrounds and are in danger of summer learning loss, the well-studied phenomenon of students losing two to three months of math and science material learned the previous school year during the summer when intellectually engaging activities are not as readily available. As an incentive, the Baltimore City program also gives students free access to opportunities in the arts, sports, and robotics.

While the arts are an incentive for students to join the program, arts integration is doing much more than encouraging students to attend–it is helping students understand tough concepts by engaging them in new ways.

We want to hear from you!

Have you ever taken part in or led an arts-integrated activity in a classroom? Did using the arts challenge your mind to make nontraditional or creative connections in a traditional subject? Do you think the arts can help students gain agency when studying math and science?

Read more posts about Young Audiences’ summer learning programs here.

Lucy Coyle is a senior at Johns Hopkins University, majoring in International Studies, and recently completed a summer internship at Young Audiences.

Are you a musician?

By Kevin Martin, Steel drum musician

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Young Audiences artists and teacher partners have written case studies documenting their work in schools and their exploration of one essential question. Each study provides a snapshot of how the artist or teacher works with students to integrate the arts into the curriculum and provide opportunities for students to imagine, create, and realize their full potential through the arts.

Project or Program Summary

For the Harford County Public Schools Title I STEAM Institute in July 2012, four Young Audiences artists were brought together to work with a group of Harford County teachers to help them develop their arts integration skills.

I taught a two-session program called “The Physics of Steel Drums.” Each session combined a steel drum rehearsal and a science lesson. I worked with the group to show how learning the steel drums could be combined with understanding the science behind the drums, working through basic wave theory. The program ended with a group performance of two songs on the steel drums and with small group demonstrations of wave theory using arts integration.

Purpose and Rational

As part of a year-long program to bring arts integration learning to all five Harford County Title I schools, this program showed teachers how to bring music into their classrooms by helping them begin to see themselves as musicians. By empowering the teachers with the ability to play and the confidence to perform music while learning science curriculum objectives, we can help empower them to bring that same experience to their students.

In order to develop their ability to use arts integration in their teaching, it’s important for teachers to develop the confidence to take on arts projects that are new to them. The question that was explored with each group of teachers was: ”Are you a musician?”

Teacher responses to initial survey of comfort level with music.
Teacher responses to  an initial survey of their comfort level with music.
Teachers also were asked to answer the question "Are you a musician?"
Teachers also were asked to answer the question “Are you a musician?”

Surveys were taken at the beginning and end of this program to measure the change in how teachers felt about performing music and whether they can view themselves as musicians, even if this was their first musical instrument experience.

Analysis and Outcomes

What are your overall conclusions regarding the documentation gathered for this case study?

This program was successful in its goal of empowering teachers to have the confidence to use music performance in their classroom teaching. Specifically, this project helped to change their view of themselves as musicians and decrease their anxiety of performing in front of others as well as taking on other art projects in which they have no background.

What conclusions have you drawn from the responses to the assessment tools you have developed?

Teachers work hard to become experts in the field of study that they teach. It is part of “what they stand on” when they teach. One of the barriers to bringing arts-integrated STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) lessons to the classroom without the aid of a teaching artist is that teachers can be uncomfortable teaching something in which they are not an expert. Many described it as feeling vulnerable.

By learning to play songs on the steel drum while learning core curriculum science objectives, the teachers agreed at the end of the program that it would be fun to try to incorporate other art forms like painting, acting, and dancing without having to be excellent at the art form themselves.

Back to the initial inquiry question, can it be answered?

Yes. When looking at the question “Am I a musician?” we started by listing what it would take for each teacher to answer “yes”:

  1. Be able to play songs well enough to perform.
  2. Have the confidence to play those songs for other people.
  3. Express oneself through music.

Each teacher, by successfully completing the program and through feedback given on a conclusion survey, achieved all three goals.

Summary and Conclusions

What was learned?

Teaching using arts integration is a great way to bring core subject material to life in the classroom and reach all types of learners. For classroom teachers to write and teach arts-integrated lessons, it is essential that they have the confidence and ability to take on projects that will require them to learn an art form with their class or even to be guided in art forms by their students who have specific art skills. By teaching teachers to play music and to see themselves as musicians we can achieve this.

What can be done differently in the future?

In the future, this program can be taken one step further by working with teachers with the instruments that they can get their hands on at their school to use in their classroom. During this program teachers learned how to play the steel drums and this is not an easy instrument to get a hold of for classroom work.

To help address this issue, Young Audiences has prepared a box of musical instruments that each of the five Harford County Title I schools can have access to for arts-integrated lessons.

I also would like to build into the program a final section where teachers can create a musical demonstration or activity for a subject of their choice.

How will this inform the work moving forward?

In February 2013, I worked with four of the five Harford County Title I schools whose teachers were trained at this program. I was able to work one-on-one and in small groups with teachers to help them start writing their own arts-integrated lesson plans using these instruments as well as those that the classes can make themselves.

Curriculum Connections

Music
Multidisciplinary Arts
Science Technology
STEAM

Learn more about Kevin and Rockcreek Steel Drums’  assembly, residency, and professional development programs.

Read other case studies written by Young Audiences teaching artists and teacher partners